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Death of an Artist


Death of an Artist

(For Mulgrew Miller, George Duke, Cedar Walton and Marian McPartland)

When I saw him alive last, I thought
That I had glimpsed his fragile spirit as it emerged
Murmuring in gentle counterpoint
Like the fluttering feathers
On piano keys playing themselves
As if by the magic of his soul
While in the benign sky above
A lapwing in full flight
Soaring on the gift of a thermal
The majesty of impending departure

But then he spoke
Nonsense at first – out of the depths a low pedal-point
Vintage quality… You are vintage quality
It sounded like his voice
You are vintage quality, he said to me
I was weeping, out of control
Hang in there, my heart cried wordlessly
And he heard me
I am at the gate, he said, I am being invited in
But I don’t want to go anywhere yet…
Not stubborn, as he had always been
But afraid as a child who suddenly knew
That he was alone – away from everyone he loved

And then the time came to say goodbye
That was when he fell silent
And was alone…
After years of daubing every note with tone and color
And rippling texture all its own
The finality of silence
And in this quietude
The insipid whiteness of the room
Suddenly the sound of nuns in a convent
Singing Qumbaya
Ushering his blithe, rippling spirit
Up to a mansion
Shaped out of the clouds in the sky


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